NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — While America draws down from wars in one section of the globe and prepares for possible conflicts in another, it has become sandwiched between two growing and relatively unreported threats in its own hemisphere, top defense officials said Monday.
Foreign backed narco-terrorism out of Venezuela and other South American countries, as well as a developing frontier in the Arctic will be at the forefront of U.S. defense efforts in the coming decade, said leaders of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard while speaking at the Navy League's annual Sea-Air-Space expo.
Any crystal ball predictions of America's next enemy will require looking at a map differently, they said.
"There are new challenges, and what you're seeing depends on where you're looking from," said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations. He pointed to a map of the arctic region, showing northern borders of countries such as Russia, Norway and Danish-controlled Greenland, all within a cramped neighborhood with the U.S. and Canada.
"The Arctic is a challenge. It's a future challenge," he said, particularly as shrinking ice caps give way to increased shipping through the Bering Strait and Russia's northern waters.
Increased commerce means more governance and demands for higher security, Greenert said.
"The natural resources present in the arctic region are being surveyed currently for exploitation. Virtually every arctic nation has made claims of sovereignty, some quite visible," said Vice Adm. John P. Currier, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard. "They exist on a daily basis and pose a real challenge to our country."
Ship-born commerce, fishing, on-land mineral development and eco-tourism are quickly expanding in the Arctic region, he said.
Currier and Greenert delivered opening remarks with Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, to open the annual exposition organized by the Navy League. The three military leaders discussed the changing scope of maritime-based militaries drawing out of protracted land-based conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and "rebalancing to the Pacific," in keeping with the ongoing White House foreign policy directorate.
Amos outlined the continuous hot spots of activity that have dominated headlines in recent years, including conflict in Syria and Mali, ongoing piracy in the Indian Ocean rim and an increasingly tense standoff on the Korean peninsula.
"There is no sense of stability, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "There are and there will be these types of issues that our nation is going to have to face."
But he drew attention to a widespread issue on a nearby continent that has escaped much public attention in the U.S. and remains an ongoing source of danger.
"Narcoterrorism just on our south border: [it is] yet to be seen just how that is going to play out in our own nation, but it is an issue and it is something that our nation is going to have to deal with," he said, pointing to the importance of addressing "narco-terrorism" among transnational criminal syndicates engaged in the drug trade.
Well-worn drug shipping routes through Central America and into the U.S. have caught the attention of outside powers in recent years, including the Iranian government. Iranian agents have likely entered the U.S. through these channels, Military.com reports.
"Colombia is doing particularly well, but there is an insurgency growing," he said. "They have been fighting it, probably the greatest success story in this part of the world."
Amos said it is "yet to be seen what is going to happen in Venezuela," where a week from Monday the country will select a new president between the late Hugo Chavez' handpicked successor or the unfavored reformer.